A false sense of relief in Government circles and the civil society that normalcy was fast returning to J&K has been shattered by street violence in the valley during the month of June against perceived “excesses” by the police and security forces.
This is not for the first time that the valley is on the boil during tourist season. In the year 2008, the separatists brought the valley to the brink of a disaster by raising the bogey of so-called transfer of 100 acres land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. Tens of thousands of people led by separatist elements came out on the streets raising anti-national slogans and destroying public property. They even organised a March to Pakistan comprising hundred of trucks laden with fruits and vegetables on the pretext that the highway that link the state with the rest of India had been blocked by the agitating people of Jammu. They were egged on by pro-Pakistan media in the valley and PDP leaders.
Last summer, the local media and separatists weaved a false story of rape and murder of two women of Shophian by personnel of the armed forces to arouse passions in the valley. The town remained closed for 40 days. Some soldiers who later were found innocent were arrested. The CBI did a commendable job by exposing the racket behind the tirade against security forces. The agency unearthed credible evidence to prove that the said women were never raped and had died from drowning. This year round, the unfortunate death of Tufail, a school student, from a rubber bullet fired by police chasing a stone pelting gang in Srinagar led to violent street protests. The police didn’t handle the case professionally that naturally hurt public sentiments. It provided a golden opportunity to the trouble makers. They exploited the situation to the hilt and indulged in wide spread violence in the valley by mobilising stone throwing gangs. Eleven youth, including a child, lost their lives in police and CRPF firing on violent protesters. Some innocent boys got killed in cross fire-a collateral damage that needs to be avoided at all costs.
Stone pelting has evolved into a full fledged industry in the valley. Pelting rocks at the security forces has emerged as a potent instrument in the hands of the anti-nationals to demonstrate their hatred for India and its men in uniform. Police say there are two categories of stone throwers namely the professionals who get paid for the job, and the misguided youth in their teens who do it to show they too are brave and can hit the personnel belonging to the security forces.
The professional rock throwers with their faces masked know the escape routes. They usually manage to escape leaving behind the largely innocent but misguided youth to face the bullets. This provides the separatists and their sympathisers in the political class with an issue to raise the tempo against perceived violation of human rights. They then demand the withdrawal of the army and annulment of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that protects the personnel of the armed forces from prosecution for their acts in performance of their hazardous duties.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is so exasperated over the politicisation of every police “excess” that he blamed “anti-national elements and vested interests” for the on-going trouble in the valley. Although his target was PDP he refrained from naming the opposition party for its deplorable role in inciting violence.
Video footage is available for anyone interested to know facts that prove that on several occasions the CRPF and other forces opened fire when the lives of their personnel were under imminent threat. But no one denies that men in uniform sometimes use force because of panic, emotional response to bodily harm caused to their colleagues by the violent mobs, and, of course, because of poor planning and training. Security forces admit that their men sometimes respond with excessive force when the mob raise abusive language against India or insult the national flag.
Another factor is that some tactical mistakes are made by CRPF-that has been deployed in the valley to deal with violence-because some units flown in from other disturbed areas are not conversant with the local situation and is unable to distinguish between angry demonstrators and anti-national stone throwers. BSF too had faced similar problems during the period it dealt with violent mobs in the valley. Painting men in uniform as “villains” and “foes” is a well thought out strategy of separatists and other trouble makers. It is high time that a new strategy is evolved to deal with violence.
One suggestion that has come up is that CRPF should assist the police by forming an outer ring while the J&K armed police- that have more than 30,000 trained armed policemen-handle the stone pelting mobs and other violent elements. As locals, the J&K police won’t attract unwarranted hostility from people in the valley who, unfortunately, perceive every non-Kashmiri as an “outsider”. This applies to even IAS and IPS officers who are serving the state for decades. This pernicious psyche of the valley is one of the greatest hurdles in the emotional integration of the state with the rest of India. It is for the mainstream parties and the civil society to educate the masses that security forces are not their enemy and are there to protect the civilian population and preserve territorial integrity of the country.
It is no coincidence that for the third successive year the valley is engulfed in violence during the summers. It is the season when terrorists trained by Pakistani army in camps spread over Pak-occupied Kashmir infiltrate from across the LoC. Army Chief General VK Singh recently stated that he had credible information that 34 active and eight holding camps were still operational across the LoC. Summer is the season when persistent attempts to infiltrate terror gangs are made. It is well known that Pakistan army gives covering or distracting fire to help terrorists cross over LoC.
Army Chief’s estimate is that 500 to 600 terrorists-about 50 per cent of them of foreign origin-are still operating in J&K. Under the circumstances, there is no case for drastically cutting down troop strength in the valley. Equally untenable is the demand repeated voiced by certain elements in the state and the “liberal’ crowd to dilute or withdraw the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The army is operating in extremely tough conditions and any attempt to weaken its hands will embolden the separatists. Of course, there is scope to institutionalise measures to ensure that these powers are not misused by any one in the army.